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Building an Effective Orientation Program

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. This goes for the many companies who view the orientation process as a necessary evil, an uncomfortable afterthought to the hiring process. Forgotten is the fact that other than the recruiting period, orientation is the first image an employee has of your company. And that picture likely will stay with the employee throughout his or her tenure.

By failing to build an effective orientation program and make its implementation a priority, companies can blow it big time. They lose a perfect opportunity to instill their values and corporate culture. What's worse, they stifle the employee's excitement and enthusiasm. The unintended message is that the company is doing the employee a favor by hiring them. In reality, it is the new employee who is doing the company the favour.

It doesn't have to be this way. A thoughtfully planned and executed orientation program helps ease the transition to the workplace. Companies that keep orientation intentional, and even lively, go a long way to tapping the full skill set of the new hire as well as igniting his or her excitement and enthusiasm. It's well worth the investment of time and resources to get the new employee to be a fully engaged member of the team as soon as possible.

While there is no one-size-fits-all orientation program, a smooth and organised approach demonstrates that your employees are your most important resource. Whether or not your company has a formalised orientation process, you can apply many of these elements with your own staff.

  • Coming attractions. Before the new employee reports on the first day, send him or her a package that provides an overall picture of the organisation and conveys your excitement about them coming on board. Focus on what each area does and how all the employees are connected, but keep it light. Send out a book that you've challenged your team with, "war stories" that offer insights into how your company does business, and several promotional items (ideally geared to their interests) to make them feel a part of the team.

    Also, get some personal information about the new person and circulate it around the office. It doesn't matter what form it takes - email, memos, newsletters. The point is for everybody to know there's a new person on board. Better yet, when your staff knows a little more about the hobbies, interests and background of the new person, it makes it easier for them to go out of their way and extend a welcome. Penetrating the shell of the existing workforce is one of the toughest obstacles for a new hire.

  • Greetings from above. The best orientation programs begin with the chief executive of your company. Nothing says we value our employees better than a personal welcome from the top on the employee's first day. Not only does it give the new person a better feel about the corporate culture, it makes them feel better about their new job. The sad reality is that few top dogs make that a priority. If that's not going to happen in your company, then it's up to you to seize the opportunity and set the proper tone.

  • Party time. Whether you have one new employee or a dozen, throw a welcome reception at the beginning of the first day. Celebrate their decision to join a premier organisation. The party atmosphere can be simple - doughnuts, coffee and juice. Maybe even taking a group to lunch. The purpose is to build camaraderie among the key people in a festive and relaxed setting.

  • >Nuts and bolts. Make sure your orientation includes the rules and values of your company. There are the mandatory forms to fill out and review of company policies that are generally handled by the human resources department. You should then take the time to review these with the new employee to show how they work in the real world. Spend a few minutes going over the corporate culture, your plans and expectations, and making the new employee feel comfortable.

  • Take a tour. Take the new employee around the building so they know where everything is, including meeting rooms, the cafeteria and even the restrooms. This will also provide good opportunities to share more insights about the corporate culture and to show how the new person fits into each department's function.

  • Develop an agenda. Like anything else worth doing, you have to put together a plan of what it is you want to accomplish. Plan the appropriate office visits with the people and departments your newest staff member will be working with. You should develop an agenda, share it with your new employee and ensure that your people stick to it. Ideally, the agenda ought to be structured with one or two visits in the morning, followed by a lunch with a key executive. During the employee's first week on the job, he or she should never have to buy lunch. Avoid the temptation to cram too many meetings into too short a period. The afternoons should be held open for the new employee to get accustomed to the new environment. This could easily go on for one or two weeks.

  • Tools of the trade. Most new people are eager to see their workspace. After all, that's their home away from home. Take the time to make sure it's clean and inviting. Have all the tools they need to do their job - desk, chair, computer, telephone, business cards, stationery, office supplies, nameplate and badge, uniforms, safety equipment. If you were coaching a baseball team, you'd never send a player out in the field without a glove. You shouldn't do that on the job either. Employees feel much more welcome knowing they were thought of in advance.

  • Involve the whole company. Involve as many people in your orientation process as possible. This helps put a name with a face. Plus, it helps the new employee develop relationships with the people he or she will deal with most often.

  • Buddy system. Each new employee should be paired with one of your existing staff members to answer any questions that come up and to check in from time to time. It's not much fun to work for a company where you are uncertain of the procedures to follow or who to call if you have questions. Choose your mentors wisely because they will be the face of the company for at least the first few weeks, if not longer.

  • Follow through. After 30 days, bring the new person back in for an unofficial review. This check-in is a two-way street. First, you want to make sure the new employee feels comfortable and is contributing. But now is also a good time to pick his or her brain on ways to improve your operation.

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